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Working in Bristol: ‘The city has a strong social and environmental agenda’

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Fran Williams speaks to five Bristol studios – Cryer & Coe, Emmett Russell, Smith Maloney, Connolly Wellingham and 3|10 Studio – about practising in the city as well as a key infill or retrofit scheme that each is working on


Cryer & Coe Architects 

Founded: 2018 Employees: Five
Matthew Coe and Duncan Cryer, directors 

How did your practice come about?
We met while working in the care sector team at Atkins in Bristol. Duncan started his career specialising in theatre and gallery design before joining Stride Treglown to work on commercial projects. Matthew worked in Glasgow before moving to London to work on a range of residential and leisure projects. He then returned to Bristol and started at Atkins, leading on two dementia-focused care-home projects for local authority clients. 

What kind of projects do you do?
Our first completed project as Cryer & Coe Architects was a 300m² new-build office for glass packaging specialist Rawlings & Son. Given that our experience lies in the commercial and care sectors, we are building on those, but also working on several social-housing schemes with local providers here in Bristol and the South West. We’ve also been fortunate to secure a number of smaller residential projects. The range of work here is encouraging: within six months of starting we submitted planning applications for projects ranging in scale from a 91-unit extra-care housing development to medium-sized commercial fit-outs and atypical microscale domestic projects. 

There was a real interest from the local community in bringing Bristol North Baths back to life once again 

Describe a project you are working on in Bristol
Bristol North Baths is a Grade II-listed Edwardian building, which was closed in October 2005 as part of a review into leisure facilities in the city. Plans for a previous redevelopment included a new library, residential apartments and community health centre, but the developers were unable to complete the works and, in 2015, the building was brought back under the control of Bristol City Council and has remained derelict since.

We are working with client Berkeley Place to bring the building back into use as offices. The ground floor will be let to start-up and incubator businesses, while another local business acts as anchor tenant on the first floor. Here the intention is to remove the previous small consultation rooms and replace them with partitions more in keeping with the style and grandeur of the building, creating two pairs of large, open-plan offices. Certain internal features remain visible, such as the Italian floor with Art Nouveau-inspired motif, doors and panelling in the main entrance. These, along with other remaining historic elements, are to be retained.

Throughout the building’s history, whether through modernisation or upgrading, works undertaken have covered over features and removed others entirely. A café, break-out areas, gym and associated changing facilities are also provided. The first occupants will be moving in this month. 

What sustainability strategies have been included in the design?
The main emphasis has been the repurposing of the building itself and the retention of much of the existing fabric and recently installed services.

The building had sat unused for 15 years. With demand growing for small, shared workspace, it is hoped that the building will once again become a valued part of the community in the Bishopston area of Bristol. At one of the public consultation events, people were more interested in how they could apply for desk space than making a judgement on the reuse of the building, which shows a real interest from the local community in bringing it back to life once again. 

Cryer&coe bristol north baths

Cryer&coe bristol north baths

What has been the project’s biggest challenge?
Unpicking the layers from the previous development and the subsequent additional time, effort and expense associated with this. Analysing the existing infrastructure, testing materials left on site and exploring how to sensitively retain or replace other elements in line with the building’s listed status added to the input required. 

What is it like working in Bristol?
Bristol is a fantastic city in which to live and work; that’s why so many people are moving here. Since 2008 the population is estimated to have increased by 11.7 per cent. It has a great mix of people as well, with two respected universities providing a good source of talented people, many of whom stay after completing their studies.

It is, however, a city of stark contrasts, with huge inequalities. Like other cities in the UK, Bristol has suffered from the loss of large-scale historic industrial production and this has had social impacts on its communities. In some areas those most at need are left behind in favour of private development. Housing stock is limited, so there is a tremendous buzz of architectural activity in the residential sector, where people are deciding to improve, rather than move. For us, this means we get to work on a really interesting mix of inspiring social housing schemes, including the use of modular construction and one-off private residential projects on challenging sites. 

What do you think about Bristol’s architecture scene?
There is room for improvement. Bristol is a relatively low-lying city with few tall structures to speak of. New policy has recently been adopted, looking at larger developments and specifically building at height, with a number of schemes at various stages across the city centre. 

This change in scale will be watched with interest but there is great scope for a change in the ambition of the city when it comes to architecture. There does seem to be a growing appreciation of quality design as new developments such as Wapping Wharf and Finzels Reach provide new spaces in the city. 

What other projects are you working on?
We are working on a large retrofit project with the DVLA in Swansea. This involves upgrades to office floors, training areas, wellness space and retail. We also have a planning application for a 35-unit, 100 per cent-affordable housing development in south Bristol, which is with Bristol City Council, and we are looking at several other housing schemes. The office is also working on a number of private residential developments, including both extensions and new builds.

Both directors are also working on their own homes, getting on the tools when time permits.

Cryer&coe bnb photo (1)

Cryer&coe bnb photo (1)

Bristol North Baths

Start on site April 2019
Completion March 2020
Gross internal floor area 2,330m²
Form of contract CMC
Construction cost Undisclosed
Client Berkeley Place  
Structural engineer  JDL Consultants
M&E consultant Envira-Mech Services, Mobius 
Quantity surveyor Berkeley Place
Project manager Berkeley Place
Main contractor Berkeley Place

Emmett Russell Architects

Founded: 2001 Employees: Nine
Victoria Emmett and Tom Russell, directors

Who are you?
We previously worked for London practices Tony Fretton (Tom) and Hawkins\Brown (Victoria) before moving to Bristol with our families. We then taught together at the University of the West of England (UWE) for a number of years and first collaborated on a couple of competition-winning projects for Europan 9; then on RIBA/RSAW’s Lawrenny ‘eco-village’ Sustainable Housing Competition. 

What kind of projects do you do?
The practice is focused on residential projects at a range of scales from individual houses to larger-scale masterplans. More recently we have been working on the delivery of council housing for Bristol City Council. Since our early competition wins, we have found a particular interest in ‘liveable neighbourhoods’. 

Bristol is an incredibly vibrant and energised city at the moment and provides a great working environment

Describe a project that you are working on in Bristol
Cotham House is a low-energy new-build house in a Victorian suburb of Bristol. Our clients, whose children have recently left home, wanted to use the available land adjacent to their existing house to build a new home for the next phase of their life. The ground floor of the house follows the slope of the land, with a stepped section connecting a kitchen and dining space towards the front with a sunken living room to the rear. The site is surrounded by high Pennant stone boundary walls and full-height glazing frames views to the front and rear gardens. The open-plan space offers changing light throughout the day.

At ground-floor level, the flanking walls of the house are also clad in Pennant stone, echoing the boundary walls. After visiting the quarry, we chose to line the deep window reveals with a sawn Pennant stone. 

Emmett russell cotham house web2

Emmett russell cotham house web2

What sustainable strategies have been included in the design?
We have adopted strategies similar to Passivhaus, with a highly insulated thermal envelope, triple glazing to all windows and rooflights, good levels of air-tightness, minimal thermal bridging and an MVHR ventilation system. 

The south-east-facing front façade has a full-width covered balcony, providing solar shading for ground and first-floor windows in summer months. The asymmetrical roof maximises the south-facing slope to accommodate solar panels.

We have aimed to minimise embodied energy for the building while maximising thermal performance for the envelope. The main structure uses 300mm-deep engineered timber I-studs filled with Warmcel recycled paper insulation. The internal Smartply sheathing provides the main continuous airtightness layer and is taped along all joints. Outside the frame there is a further layer of wood-fibre insulation board which varies in thickness up to 80mm. The exterior is clad in local natural Pennant stone and a Baumit render system above first-floor level. 

Emmett russell cotham house bricks

Emmett russell cotham house bricks

What has been the project’s biggest challenge?
The desire to create a fully open-plan ground floor with glazing at the ends created some structural challenges in relation to lateral stiffness. We used steel portal frames at either end of the house to provide the structure required, which in turn presented challenges with respect to the prevention of cold bridging. By positioning the steel towards the internal face of the walls, the large wall thickness allowed us to maintain a substantial zone of insulation outside the steelwork. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in Bristol?
Bristol is an incredibly vibrant and energised city at the moment and provides a great working environment. It is an attractive location for graduates and young families and that helps us to attract and retain staff. It occupies a pivotal location between the South West and Midlands, and between the West of England and Wales. Our project locations range from London, across the south of England to Devon and as far west as Pembrokeshire. Bristol’s lifestyle attractions have led a number of national practices to set up bases here, including AHMM and HTA, which, along with Bath-based Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, has helped to stimulate competition here. 

The main disadvantage of the city is that its popularity has raised house prices to a level that younger architects struggle to afford. 

Emmett russell cotham house 8

Emmett russell cotham house 8

What do you think about Bristol’s architecture scene?

It is currently pretty lively, fed by events organised by the Architecture Centre and by the proximity of UWE’s Department of Architecture. Housing in the city is undergoing a bit of a renaissance with the council’s ambitious housing delivery programme and a surge in interest in community-led development. There are, however, fewer small, independent practices than you might expect for a city of this size. 

What other projects are you working on?
We are involved in a variety of residential projects including new-build social housing projects for Bristol City Council and Yarlington Housing Association, an innovative rural housing development in Pembrokeshire and some one-off houses in Bristol. 

Our sustainable housing project in Lawrenny, Pembrokeshire, which we won in an RIBA/RSAW competition in 2008, is finally moving forward with an anticipated start-on-site date of May. 

Cotham House 

Start on site February 2019
Completion February 2020
Gross internal floor area  204m²
Form of contract JCT Intermediate
Construction cost £550,000
Client Private
Structural engineer Element Structures
Quantity surveyor Tim Pearce QS
Main contractor Greenheart Sustainable Construction 

Smith Maloney Architects 

Founded: 2012, incorporated in 2013 • Employees: Seven 
Ashley and Natasha Smith, directors

What kind of projects do you do?
We have deliberately tried to develop a broad portfolio of work to ensure the practice is resilient. Over the past eight years, our projects have included both developer-led and private housing, hospitality and leisure, workspace, galleries and education. This keeps work interesting for our staff and benefits project outcomes through cross-fertilisation of ideas. 

As a practice, we believe that research and attention to detail is critical. The most elegantly designed and well-conceived project can be ruined if the detail design is not properly co-ordinated and finessed, so we try think about that from the very start. 

Over the past few years we have worked on the upgrading of several railway stations, designed the recording studios for an internationally renowned Bristol-based artist, worked on a gallery space for one of the leading innovators of licensed pop culture products (Funko), renovated a Georgian hotel for the YMCA and designed numerous apartment blocks in London and across the South West. 

20 stokes croft web30

20 stokes croft web30

20 Stokes Croft by Smith Maloney Architects

Describe a project you have recently completed in Bristol
We have recently completed the retrofit of a 1950s light industrial building in the Stokes Croft area of Bristol. Commissioned by serviced apartment specialist Portland Brown, the scheme delivers retail space at ground floor with office use above. 

The client’s brief was to retain as much of the existing building’s structure and industrial character as possible, so we worked closely with its in-house team to create a light-filled workspace using simple design interventions, industrial detailing and a light touch fit-out. 

The scheme forms part of a wider redevelopment by Portland Brown, which it hopes will act as a catalyst for further improvements to the area – such as the creation of a 900-capacity hospitality venue and café/co-working facility.

The client was keen that the layout should accommodate a number of future occupancy scenarios in which the building could be split into separate lettable units so the design can be subdivided into one, two, three or four separate units, each with separate access and welfare facilities.

Feature staircases were created at the front and rear of the building. The front, made from in-situ concrete, is configured to avoid compromising the extensively glazed ground-floor shopfront, facing Stokes Croft, while the rear consists of a lower flight fabricated from structural steel plate. 

The walls have been painted white to unify the new and existing office space but have not been drylined or plastered to ensure imperfections and signs of wear and tear in the retained building fabric are left exposed. 

The design represents a very robust and lean approach to retrofit without compromising on functionality or comfort

What sustainable strategies have been included in this design?
As the building is locally listed and within a conservation area, there was little scope for the integration of externally mounted renewables. We adopted a fabric-first, low-tech approach, which included natural mixed-mode ventilation, coupled with the upgrade of non-structural thermal elements. New interventions have also been designed with future disassembly in mind, prioritising the use of mechanical fixings and minimising the use of adhered decorative finishes. 

The design represents a very robust and lean approach to retrofit office design and fit-out without compromising on functionality or comfort. 

What has been the project’s biggest challenge?
While the desire for a complementary industrial aesthetic simplified the material specification, it also made the detailing more complex. For sustainability and aesthetic reasons, plasterboard linings and partitions were kept to a minimum, with junctions and abutments between different building elements exposed. There was little scope for ‘covering up’ or ‘boxing in’ so details had to be carefully developed to ensure they worked. This was the case with the stairs and new structural openings. Similarly, furniture and the services had to be carefully co-ordinated and set out in relation to the existing structural bays to ensure they felt integral to the design. 

Portland Brown’s expanding workforce necessitated a fast-track approach. The stairs were therefore configured to maximise usable floor area while minimising structural alterations required to accommodate them. 

20 stokes croft web19

20 stokes croft web19

What is it like working in Bristol?
It’s a joy to work in Bristol. The city is very compact so all of our staff cycle to work and to meetings. It is very well connected, which has enabled us to work on projects nationwide (London, York, Ipswich and Colchester). Compared with London, we benefit from comparatively low rents and living costs, which allow us to deliver projects economically when they are further afield. From a social and cultural perspective, the city has a very tight-knit creative community with a strong social and environmental agenda. This invariably has an impact on our work and creates opportunities for collaboration.

As a provincial city, it tends to be more conservative where architecture is concerned. It is often harder to deliver projects that might be considered more challenging or less normative in approach. It is also somewhat risk-averse. Historically, a number of good ideas that would have given the city a global presence, such as Populous’s city-centre Arena and Behnisch Architekten’s harbourside centre, have fallen by the wayside. 

What do you think about Bristol’s architecture scene?
The architectural scene has transformed since the financial crash in 2008. Small and medium-sized creative studios are starting to pick up larger commissions and challenging the status quo, such as recent work by Cryer & Coe, Barefoot Architects on East Street, Emmett Russell at Challender Court and our ongoing work at Stokes Croft. The city is also fortunate to have UWE and the University of Bath on its doorstep, both of which run architecture courses. Like us, many local practices have close relationships with these universities, supporting events and teaching, which provides extra creative stimuli that help keep things fresh.

What other projects are you working on?
We are working with Arup on a golf club redevelopment in north London. We have also recently been commissioned to convert a Grade II -listed Georgian Townhouse in Lyme Regis, are finalising tender proposals for a large venue in the centre of Bristol and completing the construction stage package for an eco-annexe which extends a Grade II-listed farmhouse to enable multigenerational living. 

20 Stokes Croft 

Start on site April 2019
Completion October 2019
Gross internal floor area 396m²
Form of contract  Traditional
Construction cost £400,000
Client Portland Brown  
Structural engineer DJP Consulting Engineers
M&E consultant J Projects 
Quantity surveyor Cubix
Project manager Cubix
Main contractor J Projects  

Connolly Wellingham Architects 

Founded: 2018 • Employees: Three
Fergus Connolly and Charlie Wellingham, directors

Who are you and how did your practice come about?
We founded CWa after working together at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios’ Bath office for several years. During our time in its creative reuse studio, we gained extensive experience overseeing a number of high-profile heritage projects, including Bath Abbey, Windsor Castle, and Middleport Pottery.  

What kind of projects do you do?
We established CWa to embrace working with existing buildings at various scales. We focus our work on the cultural, historic, regenerative and environmental benefits of retrofit and reuse. This covers a wide spectrum, covering repair, refurbishment, reordering, addition, and sometimes subtraction.

We are still in the early years of our practice and our projects to date are spread over the entire South West, from the Dorset coast across to Winchester, Herefordshire and the Cotswolds. We love being based in Bristol as a well-placed centre from which a large part of the UK can be easily accessed, and we rely on the city’s growing public transport and cycling systems a lot. 

Cwa owlpen barn web construction

Cwa owlpen barn web construction

Owlpen Manor barn by Connolly Wellingham Architects

Describe a project you are working on in Bristol
In 2018, the Owlpen Manor Estate appointed us to expand the role of its 15th-century Tithe Barn. Its extended events space hopes to better support public functions such as exhibitions, weddings, concerts and lectures. An amazing historic survival, the estate includes a Tudor manor house and gardens. It is approximately 20 miles north of Bristol in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Our proposal was to extend the side of the tithe barn to improve access while unlocking a range of existing and external spaces through better programming. 

From the outset, we found efficiency to be the main challenge, wanting to minimise cost and carbon while working with the estate. The proposal of a roundwood timber frame meant we could select slow-grown trees from the estate’s ancient woodland, thus minimising transport and dramatically reducing the structure’s embodied energy. It also meant we could work closely with a Bristol-based roundwood timber frame specialist.

We’re excited by the archaic structure (sitting alongside the barn) and think of its enclosing envelope as a display cabinet in which the ‘artefact’ is set. The envelope works hard in terms of insulation, ventilation, and acoustics. Its polycarbonate elements contrast with the frame and help fill the interior with light. The ‘cut-and-fill’ strategy taken across the site’s topography has safeguarded against off-site earth moving operations.

We worked closely with the client to understand the parameters of heating the space. To maintain a baseline ambient temperature the underfloor heating system uses low-grade heat and has been designed to integrate ground or air source heat pumps in subsequent phases. Construction started in autumn last year and is on track to complete this spring. 

Bristol’s 20th-century industrial heritage has the potential to accommodate more robust, less precious reuse 

What do you think about Bristol’s architecture scene?
We love working in Bristol and have found it to be an excellent base from which to cover our projects over the South West, retaining strong links with Bath and our ongoing projects in London. The city’s strategic location means that it is the local headquarters for several key heritage stakeholders, including Historic England and the Churches Conservation Trust – with both of which we are nurturing relationships.

The city has a fascinating story, and, in many respects, its historic fabric represents an underused resource. Several historic sites within the Old City remain vacant or sparsely populated, and developers are increasingly understanding the ‘unique selling proposition’ of what repaired and respected heritage can add. Small-scale pocket developments and urban infills are the most immediate opportunity and appear to be the best approach for retaining the city’s eclectic architectural character. We are equally interested in Bristol’s 20th-century industrial heritage having the potential to accommodate more robust, less precious reuse. Spike Island Arts Centre, where we have our own studio, is a great example of this – a 1960s former tea-packing factory turned cultural hub.

The city’s reputation for excellence in higher education is paving the way for some dramatic urban change over the next few years, including recent high-profile design competitions for key institutions. The close proximity of two schools of architecture means we both teach – Fergus at Bath and Charlie at UWE. Our work here is a real opportunity to bring reuse into the educational and academic debate. It also forms a valued stream of income during our practice’s formative years.  

What other projects are you working on?
We are looking to extend an original outbuilding within Vanbrugh’s Kings Weston Estate, five miles from Bristol’s centre and overlooking the Severn estuary. In Bath we are helping two local congregations to improve their church’s facilities to diversify use and strengthen community outreach. We’re also undertaking the environmental retrofit of a solid-wall masonry cottage on the edge of the city.

In the Diocese of Hereford we’re working on a pilot model to secure the future of rural churches through expanded uses. The initial proposal is for new ‘rural retreat’ accommodation within the church – replicable, reversible and highly insulated. The main aim is for these key heritage assets to generate their own revenue serving ongoing maintenance and specialist repair. 

In London, we are working on a project under the surveyor to the fabric at St Paul’s Cathedral.

3|10 Studio 

Founded: 2014 • Employees: Five
Paul Cannon and Charlie Liddington, directors 

Who are you and how did your practice come about?
We met while studying at the Mackintosh in Glasgow. We first got to know each other while getting our hands dirty volunteering on a UNESCO indigenous building programme with Yasmeen Lari in northern Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake. After gaining experience in London, it was over an autumn beer in Hackney City Farm in 2013 that we decided to start a practice together, seeing it as a good vehicle to explore our mutual enjoyment of people, appetite for chaos and desire for control!  

What kind of projects do you do?
Residential still accounts for a large part of our workload – we’re currently working on homes in Texas, Melbourne, Dublin, London and Bristol. But our recently completed interior remodelling of the conference suites within the Wellcome Trust’s headquarters on Euston Road and our robotics laboratory for the University of Surrey have both led on to other sectors. We have also developed a series of products, including stackable steel furniture, recycled yoghurt pot sinks, bronze/steel handrail extensions and other bespoke furniture.   

310 studio photo 1 rear

310 studio photo 1 rear

Describe a project that you are working on in Bristol
A project that is particularly close to our heart is work to a Victorian home in Elgin Park, Redland, a residential area in the north-west of Bristol, rich in houses built for wealthy merchants from their often ill-gotten gold!

Our clients – a painter, a data security tech developer and their children – have been very involved, both conceptually and physically, from the outset. The house is an example of the curiously split-level ‘Bristol Villa’ typology, essentially creating five separate levels within what appears to be a two-storey home with a wide footprint. This typology was reputedly developed to stagger the footings for greater stability on Bristol’s steeply sloping sites. 

The remodelling has sought ways to make the living spaces less cellular, with one of the main interventions being the removal of half the floor within a room at first-floor level to create a kitchen-dining area that operates over three levels. A full-height basement was dug under the house while a carefully shaped lightwell to the rear allows one to see the pear tree in the back garden.

A feature of this project is the reduction of physical area in an existing property to increase the perceived sense of space – making something smaller appear bigger. To do this, we removed a small, single-storey rear extension and introduced a large vertical window and new glazed door to the rear along with the aforementioned amendment of the first floor to transform what were previously quite tight spaces into a generous kitchen diner.

The house is an example of the curiously split-level ‘Bristol Villa’ typology, creating five levels within what appears to be a two-storey home 

In order to improve the environmental performance of an old Victorian property, technology was at the forefront with the incorporation of a Loxone intelligent system for lighting, heating and electric car charging and incorporation of a solar thermal array. Sheep’s wool insulation was specified for the roof and every effort was made to refurbish or reuse as many materials as possible, such as lock and handle mechanisms for doors and glass. 

It has been delightful to work on over a long time in close collaboration with the clients, and the works continue to develop in tune with the family’s changing requirements. The next phase involves a new bespoke kitchen, some furniture and later the construction of a charred timber-clad studio and sauna at the end of the garden. 

What is it like working in Bristol?
We both studied in Glasgow, and the scale, character and identity of Bristol felt familiar from the get-go. Both beget the elusive commodity of ‘civic pride’ – a sense of ownership among those who call it home. 

Bristol is walkable, cyclable, affordable, musical. It has a fabulous harbour with a fascinating and cruel history that’s hard to reconcile with the cafés and bars that edge it today. 

Design businesses can still afford to locate themselves close to the city centre, contributing to its vibrant and energetic core, which helps incubate an evolving, well-anchored civic identity.  

310 architects photo 3 interior b

310 architects photo 3 interior b

What do you think about Bristol’s architecture scene?
We set up the studio having no prior links or contacts in Bristol; it was a case of ‘we like the place, so let’s make it work’. This is not the easiest way, as work invariably comes through networks or networking and breaking into established local networks can be difficult.

That said, there’s a strong architectural scene in the city and a receptive, interested public. The Architecture Centre provides a great service to professionals and public alike but there’s still a very long way to go before the potential of architecture and urban design is fully understood by the wider public and not just within professional echo chambers of personal reassurance!  

What other projects are you working on?
We’ve recently been granted planning permission to remodel our own studio building in Bristol – Brightbow Workspace – phase 1 of which will be starting on site later this year. 

In addition to a number of challenging residential projects in Bristol and Dublin, we have a development of five apartments on site on Balham High Road in London and we’re also working on various projects for the Wellcome Trust and Collection, including a bronze and steel handrail extension prototype, a folded steel disabled access ramp and a ground-floor toilets redesign that developed around current thinking on inclusivity and accessibility. 

Further afield, we have a large lakeside house about to start on site in Dallas, Texas, and the remodelling of two homes in Melbourne.

Private house 

Start on site August 2016
Completion Ongoing (Phase 1: September 2017)
Gross internal floor area 260m²
Form of contract JCT
Construction cost £250,000 (main contract works)  
Client Private
Structural engineer KB2
Garden designer Harriet Cox
Project manager 3|10 studio

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